For contractors looking to dig a small, shallow trench for fiber-optic lines leading to homes, using traditional digging methods can add time and additional cost to the project.
That's where microtrenchers come in. Microtrenchers have a specialized saw that goes 16 inches, or less, into the ground. “The cut is more shallow and more narrow than what it would be with usual trenching equipment,” says Steve Seabolt, product manager for Ditch Witch. “The cut is also completed much faster.”
Microtrenchers are primarily used for installing fiber-optic lines to homes. These lines are thinner and do not go as deep as other utilities. “The telecommunications industry is definitely a big driver in using microtrenching,” says Seabolt.
Contractors are interested in microtrenchers since they provide another revenue stream. “It opens up a chance to get new jobs,” Seabolt says. “These machines are faster, quieter and less disruptive. With a traditional trenching system, you may also need a broom out there to help clean up the spoils.”
The cost of fiber line installation is a big selling point for contractors using microtrenchers, as the price-per-home to install a gigabyte internet connection can be excessive using traditional trenching methods.
The Cutting Tool
Saw blades are the key to what makes the microtrencher different than other trenching equipment. The small blades are designed to cut through asphalt or concrete, creating a trench in one quick pass. The smaller blade allows microtrenchers to trench in the public right-of-way next to curbs or gutters.
“When utility companies have to go in people's yards, they get a lot of complaints, but if you can do it in the right-of-way, they do not need to worry about that,” Seabolt says. “Our blade has a tighter cut radius so operators can cut on a 90-degree street corner or go around a cul-de-sac.”
Ditch Witch's MT12 has a floating saw shroud that follows the ground contour with constant pressure to help clean out the soil, producing a sharper-edged cut. The company offers several blades from standard carbide-tipped to its PDC with diamond embedded carbide. “Our microtrencher also has blades that can be easily changed out depending on the job,” he says. “Being able to quickly swap out the blades improves productivity.”
Vermeer's microtrencher includes its Yellow Jacket cutter system that offers teeth with reversible edges, says Jason Zylstra, marketing manager for Vermeer. When an edge is worn, contractors can slip the tooth to access a new cutting edge to help lengthen tooth life and increase cutting time.
Vermeer's rotary tooth configurations are compatible for wider cutting specifications and a shark tooth wheel is available for narrow cutting specifications.
Adding Other Tools
Microtrenchers include a hydraulic plunge to provide variable depth control, ranging from 6 to 12 inches, eliminating the need for contractors to manually adjust the equipment. They can also be manually tilted 6 degrees to the right or left, allowing contractors to maintain a true vertical trench on uneven surfaces.
Both Vermeer and Ditch Witch designed their microtrenchers to be part of a larger system that includes other equipment such as a tractor and vacuum system. Both have their advantage. With the tractor, the contractor is going to get more horsepower. “The more horsepower you have, the more strength available for the tough jobs,” Seabolt says. “The additional horsepower also provides more stability.”
Microtrenchers can also be fitted with an attachment that easily removes spoils from the work site. Vermeer's cyclonic high cfm vacuum system is connected to the microtrencher with a 4-inch hose that simultaneously removes the material as it is cut, leaving a clean trench for placement of the fiber. Zylstra says it has a three-stage filtration system and can easily handle dry material.
Once the trench is dug, it is backfilled with a grout compound.
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